Stems: smooth, branched, leafy. Leaves: in fours, linear, acute. Flowers: in terminal panicles, dense, many-flowered in small compact cymes. Fruit: hispid.
The Northern Bedstraw may be distinguished by the fact that its tiny narrow leaves grow in circles of four round the stems. It is a plant bearing many small white flowers in clusters, and the seeds are twin burs, covered with numerous hooked bristles, by means of which they cling to the clothing of the passer-by and the fur of animals.
Sir John Franklin in his book The Polar Seas describes this plant as being used by the Indians as a vegetable dye. They call it Sawoyan, and after boiling the roots they mix the liquid with the juice of strawberries and cranberries, and thus obtain a beautiful scarlet dye.
Galium triflorum, or Sweet-scented Bedstraw, always grows in threes, or on three-branched stems, as might be inferred from the name triflorum. The leaves are a trifle broader than those of G. boreale, but the flowers of both have a four-lobed white corolla. At all times, but especially when dried, this plant has a sweet odour resembling that of vanilla. Its seeds are two-lobed and are covered with tiny hooked hairs, which have earned for it the descriptive name of "Cleaver," for verily its burs cleave fast to anything with which they come in contact.
Galium trifidum, or Small Bedstraw, has slender weak four-angled stems, very freely intertangled, and forms dense mats on the ground. The narrow spatulate primary leaves are usually in fours and the pale flowers are solitary on long stalks and grow in pairs at the nodes. It is a wet-loving plant.